When it comes to videoconferences, it’s all about the interaction
On Saturday, an interview I recorded was broadcast on Canadian radio station CKNW, which transmits its GetConnected program from Vancouver, and which contacted me after reading my article in Forbes about Amazon’s possible acquisition of AMC Theatres.
Amazon Goes To The Movies
Shares in the largest movie theater chain in the world, AMC, which has been hard hit by the lockdown, have risen 30%…
The reason I mention this is not so much the interview, which is pretty much the same as the article, which I also republished here on Medium. When I was told that the radio station would be showing the video, I wanted to take the opportunity to try out some improvements to video interaction, mainly with my classes and conferences in mind. It’s clear that for quite some time, interaction through video conferencing is going to continue to be part of our normal life, so I think it’s worth trying out options to improve our communication.
What you see in the image on top of the article is my complete setup, which I didn’t use in its entirety, but instead to try it under real circumstances and evaluate the results. The main part is the simplest one: the green screen in the background, which allows the use of virtual backgrounds with much more quality than those that can be used in applications like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and others. Virtual backgrounds are already very common in videoconferences and are generally used, in addition to joking that you are at the beach, to protect privacy. However, they’re usually very poor quality: the periphery of our image is usually blurred, and when we move or, above all, move away from the screen, it looks terrible. Using a simple green screen and defining it as such in the corresponding video application really improves the result, as can be seen in my interview, and can be put to other uses, as can be seen in the video, to place images that can serve from simply setting the scene for the topic under discussion, to placing news or any other content.
Chroma key screens are available in many formats. Mine hangs on two tripods with a crossbar, and is not particularly easy to use, especially since it is too bulky to move it conveniently around the house. They are available in the form of a roll-up screen, or simply a fabric which is held in place with tweezers or pins. And right: I could have ironed it :-)
As I said, it’s just a test, but I like experimenting like this, because it allows me to get familiar with things that I intend to use later. The green screen is part of a photo studio system with three side lights that in this case I didn’t use but that come in handy sometimes because they generate a very soft light. This time I used only a ring light kit and my smartphone camera, placed on a gooseneck holder. When this is not possible, I would recommend raising the height of the computer with a box or a pile of books until its webcam is approximately at eye level. To use the camera of my mobile phone instead of the webcam of my laptop, which allows me a little more freedom to establish the point of view and gives a slightly better quality, I use EpocCam HD, which can be installed in a jiffy and provides resolution of up to 1920×1080, and can be attached to the computer by cable (although it can be used on WiFi). There are many other solutions, but these are only the ones I have tried.
For the videoconference, in this occasion, I used Zoom because that’s what the radio station asked for, and so I simply added the virtual backgrounds one by one before the transmission and kept the virtual backgrounds window open and moved to an area of the screen where it didn’t bother me, so I could simply click on the one I wanted to use in each moment. Obviously, you can simply share the screen, which is not a bad idea when the presentation requires a certain level of detail, takes away attention from the speaker.
In addition to images, with Zoom, you can also use videos in MP4 or MOV format with a minimum resolution of 480×360 pixels in 360p and a maximum of 1920×1080 pixels in 1080p as virtual backgrounds, although I generally prefer to transmit video from the cloud. My intention is to use virtual backgrounds to help me recreate a classroom feel, such as being able to move in front of my presentation, point out parts of a slide, etc., although I still have to see how I organize it in terms of space.
Teaching on cloud nine
Since the lockdown, when I moved all my classes online, I’ve seen a lot changes, some extremely obvious, others, less…
This is now where I am with my experiments. This week I have several classes with an international in-company course, so I’m sure I’ll be incorporating some other ideas I want to try out: I’ll keep you posted on the results.
(En español, aquí)